Books

New England Literary News

Photo show recalls Frederick Douglass and book details singer’s childhood abuse

“Labor History Mural,” by Dan Devenny of New Bedford from “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American.”
Dan Devenny
“Labor History Mural,” by Dan Devenny of New Bedford from “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American.”

Portraits of Frederick Douglass

Long before the paparazzi or the selfie, Frederick Douglass — ex-slave turned abolitionist, orator, and writer — was a recognizable celebrity across the country. The most photographed American of the 19th century, Douglass was quick to grasp the power of photography. Here, he thought, was a democratic art.

“The humblest servant girl may now possess a picture of herself such as the wealth of kings could not purchase 50 years ago,” he wrote.

The first photograph of Douglass, wearing a white shirt, tie, and jacket, was taken in 1841 when he was in his early 20s, a fugitive, only three years removed from slavery. He died in 1895.

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About 160 photographs of him were published in the 2015 book “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American” (Liveright) by John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier. Now many of the images are on view in a new exhibit at the Museum of African American History in Boston. Based on the book, the exhibit continues through July 31, 2017.

A life journey of recovery

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As a boy in 1988, Travis James Humphrey left his home in Houlton, Maine, to attend the American Boychoir School in Princeton, N.J., on scholarship. He recalls being sexually abused at the school and witnessing other boys being victimized. That’s when the nightmares and insomnia began. His recovery from that trauma has been a long process, one he has shared with his wife, Shonna Milliken Humphrey.

In the throes of the emotional strain that his past and post-traumatic stress disorder had put on their marriage, the couple took a monthlong road trip a few years ago. They returned home stronger together and paid tribute to the journey.

Travis created an album, Shonna a memoir. A musician and former lead singer of the US Air Force Band, which has opened shows for the likes of B.B. King, he put out his fourth album, “The Roadhouse Gospel Hour.” It’s a collection of Americana standards and songs he wrote. She wrote “Dirt Roads & Diner Pie: One Couple’s Road Trip to Recovery from Childhood Sexual Abuse” (Central Recovery). While illuminating the pervasive effects of childhood sexual abuse, she is determined to stay positive and loving.

Music in Elder’s life

After John Elder retired from Middlebury College in 2010, he learned how to play the Irish flute. He writes about being a late-life beginner in “Picking Up the Flute: A Memoir With Music” (Green Writers). Formerly an English professor who focused on nature writing, Elder and his wife, Rita, made musical sojourns to western Ireland, where the landscape reminds them of Vermont’s Green Mountains. Notations throughout the book point readers to a website where they can hear Elder play the tunes he writes about.

Coming out

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 “Curious Minds” by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton (Bantam)

 “Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day” by Joel Selvin (Dey Street)

 “Damaged” by Lisa Scottoline (St. Martin’s)

Pick of the Week

Peter Sherman of Wellesley Books in Wellesley recommends “Half Wild” by Robin MacArthur (Ecco): “MacArthur’s debut story collection is set in the hilly backcountry of southern Vermont — a rural landscape of half-abandoned farms and double-wide trailers, but also one of immense natural beauty and wildness. Her characters hew close to this land — even those who have left cannot help but return. These are beautifully drawn portraits of people who, despite poverty and decay, remain vibrantly alive to their world and to the power of memory.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at JanLGardner@yahoo.com.